President Donald Trump’s immigration policy keeps finding new ways to grow a little bit crueler. Immigration officials confirmed this week that deportation deferrals will no longer be considered for individuals with serious medical needs.
Previously, a small program called “medical deferred action” allowed people — often children — to stay in the United States an extra two years if they were receiving treatment for severe medical needs. In many cases, these families came to the country through legal means but simply did not complete the medical treatment in the original time allotted, and are seeking more time to continue their care.
As first reported by WBUR Boston, several applicants for this kind of deferral were surprised to receive letters from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informing them that the agency was no longer considering such requests. Moreover, they were told they only had 33 days to leave the country, after which they could be forcibly removed, which would make it much harder to return in the near future to continue treatment.
Perhaps the most stunning part about these sudden refusals is that the administration never even announced a policy change. Only after WBUR first published its story about the letters did USCIS confirm that the requests would now be submitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for consideration. An ICE spokesperson then claimed, “As with any request for deferred action, ICE reviews each case on its own merits and exercises appropriate discretion after reviewing all the facts involved.” The blanket denials suggest medical deferrals have no longer have such merit.
The medical deferral program had been in place for decades, ensuring that individuals could receive medical care that isn’t available in their home countries. The Irish International Immigrant Center, which reported at least five of their clients were denied deferrals, explained that it serves many families whose children have cancer, cystic fibrosis, HIV, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and epilepsy.
For example, 16-year-old Jonathan Sanchez is fighting to stay after coming on a tourist visa because there is no treatment for cystic fibrosis back in Honduras. “If they deny the program, then I need to go back to my country, and I’ll probably die,” he said at a press conference Monday.
The denial letters claim that USCIS will only consider deferred action requests for “certain military members, enlistees, and their families.” This is hardly reassuring, given the administration also indicated earlier this summer its desire to begin deporting the families of active duty service members.